Blending history, life on a horseshoe bend in the James River and recreation opportunities, Scottsville straddles Albemarle and Fluvanna counties and is where three counties (Albemarle, Fluvanna and Buckingham) converge.
At the crossroads of Virginia 6 and 20 and a half-hour’s drive from Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, Scottsville has retained its small-town flavor and distinctive sense of community.
Route 20 through town handles 8,000 vehicles daily, mostly commuters heading to Charlottesville. The town has about 600 residents and 73 licensed businesses, including a half-dozen restaurants and James River Brewery. Over a dozen churches dot the community.
The largest employer is Food Lion; residents are also self-employed, work in local businesses or commute for work. Scottsville’s location adjacent to the James River provides a tourist- enticing setting, and two local businesses, James River Reeling & Rafting and James River Runners, offer kayak, canoe and tube rentals.
Unlike most incorporated towns, Scottsville has no town real estate tax. The town relies on business license taxes, a meals tax and transit occupancy taxes to meet financial obligations.
Town Administrator Matthew Lawless notes, “We are one of the few towns in Virginia to have a thriving small business community. We have the best of both worlds here, from being near Charlottesville to enjoying a rural setting. There’s a super-welcoming vibe here.”
At one end of town is Canal Basin Square, a free, self-guided outdoor transportation history park located at the original site of the James River and Kanawha Canal Basin on Main Street across from the Scottsville Museum. At the other end of town, Lumpkin’s Restaurant, a family-owned fixture on Valley Street at Scottsville’s north edge, bookends downtown’s mix of history and the river’s ever-looming presence.
Originally known as Scott’s Landing, 1700s Scottsville was Virginia’s westernmost center of commerce when rivers were a primary means of shipping. Scottsville was a busy port for batteaux, shallow-draft merchant boats used to transport tobacco and other cargo. Batteau (a French word meaning “boat” that has several alternate spellings) were flat-bottomed boats propelled by men pushing the vessels along with long, sturdy poles.
Batteaux were often laden with hogsheads of tobacco, large barrels that weighed about 1,000 pounds when fully loaded.
For 34 years, the James River Batteau Festival has celebrated their legacy with an eight-day event featuring batteau replicas. Beginning in Lynchburg, replica boats move along 120 miles of the James River, including a stop in Scottsville, each June.
Incorporated in 1818, many of Scottsville’s buildings, canal locks and bridges were destroyed in March 1865 by Union forces shortly before the end of the Civil War. With the demise of the canal, it would take decades for the town to recover. By the end of the 19th century a rail line lay on top of the old canal towpath, before passenger trains through town also disappeared.
Homes and historic structures dot hillsides overlooking the low-lying town. Reminders are everywhere of life before the A. Raymon Thacker Levee was completed in 1989. From 1870-1972, the town experienced 21 floods, the highest during Hurricane Agnes in July 1972 (34.02 feet; normal river height is 4.6 feet).
Among his many accomplishments, Thacker, who served as mayor for over 30 years and died in 2016 at 106, spearheaded a tireless effort to complete Mink Creek Dam to stop water from backing up into the town, along with a levee to protect Scottsville from future flood destruction.
“The levee keeps out the water but it also makes a bathtub,” Lawless explains. “So we have pumps that can pump 50,000 gallons a minute.”
Post-levee, there have been no devastating floods, but Lawless says, “We had so much rain in 2018 that we had some flash floods, and some basements and a parking lot flooded.”
Ron Smith, a writer for The Scottsville Monthly and a funeral director at Thacker Brothers Funeral Home, moved with his wife from Newport News to Scottsville in 2007. He’s a member of the town planning commission and active with the Scottsville Museum. He admits to missing some things about life in “the big city” but notes, “They have a homicide there almost daily and we haven’t had one here since we moved here.”
He adds, “I like the pace of life here. Everybody is extremely friendly. When we moved here, there were a lot of ‘hobby’ businesses, and that has improved.”
Master barber Rodney Harris commutes from Richmond to operate All Star Barbers #2 (he also owns All Star Barbers #1 in Charlottesville), opened in 2006 on Valley Street.
Originally from Nelson County, Harris noticed there was no barber shop in Scottsville and decided to open one.
“I’m the only black entrepreneur in Scottsville,” he says. “Business has been great. There are more people and more restaurants now.”
He downplays his commute, explaining, “I hope to move closer within the next two years. I tell people, come to the area, try some of the good food … there’s money to be made here.”
Down the street at Baines Books & Coffee, which opened in 2012, customers work on laptops while sipping espresso drinks. Manager Kristin Freshwater grew up in Appomattox and had been with a location there since 2005. A reading nook features comfortable chairs, a fireplace and a variety of books, including a large children’s book section.
“We sell books and coffee, but we also create a place for community. Meetings take place here and friendships have developed here,” Freshwater says.
Customer Michael Thau works on his laptop while his shih tzu-mix dog lies curled on a towel next to him. The self-employed Thau, who designs solar installations, has lived in the area since February.
“I love it here. I live in a loft on a farm. There’s fresh air and you feel safe here,” Thau, who relocated from Philadelphia, says.
Bill Hyson, Jim Wilson and Fred Stovall are here, too, taking a break from volunteer work with the Blue Ridge Area Foodbank, which serves Scottsville with the support of five churches at the Scottsville Community Center. Hyson says the food pantry serves 80-100 people. Stovall, who grew up in Scottsville and lives in Charlottesville, says, “Scottsville has changed for the better. Locals and ‘come-heres’ get along.”
One challenge: use of the former Uniroyal tire plant, a 61-acre site with 150,000 square feet of factory space, once the town’s largest employer.
“The building dates to 1944, built for the war effort … the plant closed around 2009 and put about a hundred people out of work,” Smith explains. “We are working on a Small Area Plan, sort of like a town comprehensive plan, to figure out a redevelopment plan for that parcel.”
Donald Wood worked at Uniroyal for 36 years and was “born and raised here.” He lives at the former Scottsville School, built in 1925 and in operation until 1968. The renovated school building includes an apartment component for elderly and/or disabled people. He remembers a town that had “three or four locally owned food markets and a car dealership.”
He explains, “I’ve been through three floods, so I am thankful the levee was built. I like living here … it’s a nice little place.”
Barbara Brochu is a clerk at Scottsville Post Office, once downtown but now located in Scottsville Center, a strip shopping center at the town’s northern end. She says losing Uniroyal was “detrimental” but adds, “Now the town is starting to build up more.” The post office services part of Albemarle, Fluvanna and Buckingham, and includes about 800 post office boxes and six rural routes.
“I have seen so much honesty here … it’s a good community, very caring and friendly,” she says.
Lumpkin’s Restaurant, opened in 1970 by the late Hollis Lumpkin Jr. and wife Virginia, 95, is operated by son Hollis III. Known for a giant rooster on its front lawn, Lumpkin says the rooster was left as a joke, but his mother liked it, so the rooster stayed.
His parents started their first restaurant in downtown Scottsville before they bought land and built the now-vintage restaurant/motel combination.
“We lived over the restaurant when I was a kid. My dad passed in 1980; my mother was active in the restaurant until she was 85 years old. I finished college in the early 1980s and decided to help her … and here I am!” Hollis III recalls with a laugh. He says they still have a few rooms available in the motel.
“They’re nothing fancy, but they are clean and have a fridge and microwave,” he explains.
The restaurant, which offers down-home cooking and reasonable prices (only cash or checks, no debit or credit cards accepted), remains a Scottsville fixture.
Of the restaurant’s longevity, Hollis III observes, “There will always be a need for good food at a decent price. We are not the trendy new kid on the block. We have long-term customers, and some locals eat here two or three times a day.”
Ron Smith sums up Scottsville by saying, “This is just a great place to live.”